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Agricultural Research

Agricultural Research

Research to support animal agriculture include studies of livestock husbandry systems, breeding, animal disease, and productivity.

Institutions conducting agriculture-related research (and teaching) often maintain herds and/or flocks of animals in a semi-commercial farm environment. In addition, research is also carried out using commercial herds not owned by the institution. This places the ethics of animal use outside of conventional laboratory research and requires special consideration of how the Three Rs can be implemented.

Often replacement in agricultural research is not possible (e.g. when the research goal is to improve the welfare or productivity of the animal). Reduction of animal use may not be appropriate in agricultural trials where treatment of the animal is at the herd level and is non-invasive. Similarly, the implementation of refinements may conflict with the use of routine, invasive husbandry procedures typical to the industry.

Implementing Three Rs in Animal Agriculture Research

Research and teaching institutions can provide a leadership role in the exploration and implementation of new best practices in animal agriculture. Therefore, investigators should aim to implement the Three Rs as much as possible to provide a higher standard of animal welfare than would normally be achieved by applying current agricultural industry standards.

Reduction can be achieved with optimal experimental design and consultation with a statistician may be helpful.

There are also opportunities to implement refinements in agricultural research, including:

  • using alternatives to routine, invasive agricultural practices - for example, use of polled cattle instead of dehorning and not castrating piglets that will be killed before they mature
  • using anesthesia and analgesic for routine, invasive agricultural practices such as dehorning and castration
  • designing environments to allow the performance of strongly motivated behaviour patterns for example, accommodating nesting behaviour in domestic fowl, and providing teats for young calves to suck
  • housing compatible animals in groups of appropriate size
  • providing opportunities for animals to perform normal food searching and foraging behaviour
  • ensuring animal comfort in lying and walking areas
  • optimizing age of weaning for dam and offspring well-being
  • shortening periods of isolation and restraint
  • training animal care staff in animal behaviour and the proper methods for lifting, moving and herding animals
  • abandoning use of painful routine agricultural practices for which there are less invasive alternatives (including branding, tail docking, teeth clipping, debeaking, detoeing, and removing combs of roosters)

This section has been adapted from the CCAC guidelines on: the care and use of farm animals in research, teaching and testing.

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